Hang onto your hats, adoptive friends . . . this is a long post, but the topic is so important that I hope you'll bear with me. My bloggy friend Missy alerted me to two articles regarding adoption ethics, specifically in the realm of Christian adoption. Yesterday, on NPR's Fresh Air program, there was an interview with Kathryn Joyce, author of the upcoming book, The Child Catchers. The book examines underlying motives about adoption in the Christian context, and the lack of attention often paid to ethical issues in adoption in the midst of the new "orphan fever."
And in Mother Jones magazine, there is a truly sad and horrifying article about adoptions from Liberia and other African countries that were entered into with little preparation, questionable motives, and tragic results.
The Mother Jones article is a particularly difficult read, mostly because of the frightening ethical violations and lack of education on the part of the adoptive parents. I do feel, however, that it's important to read these articles, for two reasons: first, because it's always important to understand what our culture believes about Christians (so that we can communicate better about Christ), and second, because there are very real ethical concerns in adoption that too many Christians ignore.
I admit I felt sorrowful and defensive about the writers' lack of distinctions (or seeming lack of knowledge) about very different subsets of Christianity. Michael and Debi Pearl and the abusive methods they teach in their books are lumped in with all of "evangelical" Christianity, when they are a tiny subculture that exists far outside most Christians' knowledge. (The only reason I know of them is because of one real-life friend and one blog friend who were raised in abusive families/churches that subscribed to their methods.) Likewise, the adoptive parents' ministry and magazine in the MJ article are people I've never heard of after being a well-read Christian for over 20 years.
I also wondered if the MJ reporter actually knows anyone who is a professing Christian, or if the reporter has been deeply hurt by Christians -- those are a few reasons I can think of for the lack of any semblance of balance in reporting. The MJ article never mentions the precautions put in place by countries who have agreed to the Hague convention standards, never mentions the rigorous education requirements to adopt from Hague countries, and never contrasts the unethical, uneducated, abusive parents with an example of people who are great adoptive parents.
Most importantly, the reporter did not seek out families who have left particular country programs because of ethical concerns. I personally know of two families who have done this (one online friend and one real-life) -- and it would've made for better reporting to include examples like theirs. When some Christians are aware of ethical issues, it contrasts with and holds accountable those who do not. I understand that the focus was on unethical adoption practices, but making the article entirely one-sided does a huge disservice to the children waiting for families. I hate to think that people are being scared away from adopting altogether by articles such as this when there is such a glaring need for loving families to step up.
I won't comment too much on the book, because I haven't read it yet. I did read the excerpt included with the interview. In it, Joyce mentions that part of the back story for writing this book was a friendship that began during a previous book about Quiverfull families. She goes into some detail about her years-long communication with this woman . . . and it seems as though Joyce may, like the Mother Jones reporter, lump different subsets of Christianity together. (Don't know what Quiverfull means? It's a patriarchal branch of Christianity that eschews birth control in favor of God determining your family size, and can also include other practices such as women having long hair and wearing dresses.) But the excerpt was short, so that's all I'll comment on for now.
I'm sharing the links not to upset you, but rather so we can all be prepared to answer well if questions about ethics come our way. As Christians, we should be VERY concerned that our children come to us in ways that are above reproach. We should be the MOST concerned. We should be the ones raising questions first, out of our desire to honor Christ in everything we do.
But too often, we don't.
I am disturbed by the numbers of Christian adoption agencies that seem to pop up like mushrooms when new country programs open up, do not have the same high standards for pre-adoption requirements . . . and then disappear within a few years.
I am disturbed when I see some families get their children home very quickly, when I know other families working with the same country (and a reputable, by-the-book agency) who wait for years.
I am disturbed when other types of orphan care are not mentioned . . . such as sponsor programs, micro-loans for parents to earn a sustainable living, etc. We should be equally excited about caring for children in-country, who will never be adopted, and creating solutions to alleviate poverty (the reason some families place their children in orphanages.) Often in church settings, in-country care is never mentioned -- and adoption is presented as the only solution.
I am disturbed when Christian "orphan" conferences do not include the perspectives of any adoptees. We need to be asking them about their experiences -- they are the experts, and their experiences are actually more important than mine, as an adoptive parent who was the only one who had any choices about my children's adoption experience.
I am disturbed when adoption agencies and adoptive parents don't take time to understand the foreign country's perceptions about orphanages or adoption. (In many countries, impoverished parents will admit their children to an orphanage so they will have food to eat -- fully intended to get them back in a couple months, when the crops are in, etc. They have no idea they're agreeing to relinquish their kids permanently.)
I am disturbed when I hear Christians talk about adoption as a mission field, or as saving orphans, or being a means to spread the Gospel. Of course I will teach all of my children about loving Christ, but first and foremost, adoption is about committing to parent and love a child -- a real, flesh-and-blood child. When we make it about a cause, we turn a child into a project, which is just dehumanization, plain and simple.
We Christians who are committed to ethical adoptions need to be ready to speak up. I know corruption and deception can happen in Hague countries too, and I would hate to unknowingly be part of that scenario. But we are doing everything in our power, from our agency choice to our country choice, to our dedication to pre-adoption education to make it a good, ethical, beautiful, redemptive thing.
And I'm committed to spreading the word. Last week, I spoke to our church's moms' group about adoption, and my focus was on the many complexities of international adoption, including loss and grief, making sure adoption is ethical, and being well-equipped to parent in new and different ways (for becoming a transracial family, and for parenting hurting children).
So I'm speaking up in my little corner of the world! And I hope you will take opportunities to do the same thing. Our kids, and all children waiting for stable, loving families, deserve no less.